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Chertoff should meet with business people

Aides to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff described those allowed to take part in his scheduled meeting in Buffalo today as "stakeholders."

But the list of invitees was scrubbed virtually clean of those with the most at stake in the new regimens he ordered for crossing the border in 2008.

Chertoff runs President Bush's ungovernable Homeland Security Department. The folks Chertoff considered "stakeholders," for purposes of today's meeting, are mostly folks who can't disagree with him.

These include career underlings in customs, border protection and other U.S. agencies, people who can be shanghaied to bleak postings in the Arizona desert if they look funny at him.

Typical of these was a man at Chertoff's right at a news conference last week when he announced the changes in effect at the border as of Jan. 31. The silent subordinate wore a blue uniform with four big white stars on each shoulder, and packed a huge semiautomatic pistol on his right hip.

That Chertoff required a large armed man at his elbow at a news conference offers a clue to his mind-set.

Other invitees will be "elected officials," who seek homeland security money, and the Peace Bridge Authority, which is entirely at Chertoff's mercy for security.

Missing from today's session will be taxpayers and job providers of Buffalo Niagara and Ontario. (At the last moment Friday, Chertoff's office invited Andrew J. Rudnick, president, Greater Buffalo Partnership, to join what amounts to a drive-by photo op at the Peace Bridge. It's not known whether Rudnick will go.)

Business people believe the idiocy of announcing harsh, unnecessary and confusing identification mandates is wrecking tourism, transportation and other employers in the Niagara region.

Their worst fears are that Chertoff will seal off the area from the most promising source of future prosperity -- Ontario's Golden Horseshoe.

Canadian business interests are faring no better. Getting little help from Canada's Conservative leadership, officers of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce recently wandered the halls of Congress and homeland security seeking sweet reason on border security -- to no avail.

Chertoff aides do meet with binational business reps. These sessions are described by participants who spoke only on condition of anonymity as Orwellian exchanges where Bush administration responses to commercial concerns are denial, blame-casting and pomposity.

Chertoff brought no uniformed gunman to a briefing with political reporters. At the Christian Science Monitor breakfast, he advanced his nice-guy side: Husband, father, a former prosecutor from New Jersey, nibbling at a small bowl of berries. He had even shaved off his little gray mustache. He was there to sell Bush's incredible immigration overhaul to inside-the-beltway interpreters.

Chertoff's news was to admit that the PASS card he ballyhooed 17 months ago as a cheap, compact replacement for a passport still isn't ready. He also said the Shared Border Management Plan pushed by his predecessor, Tom Ridge, was ruled something "that couldn't be done" by department lawyers.

Shared Border Management was a plan where U.S. inspectors would preclear U.S.-bound traffic in Fort Erie, Ont.

Chertoff may be a nice guy, but he is a litigator lacking experience as an administrator. He was a prosecutor, then a New York City lawyer with a white-collar crimes practice.

Prior to his appointment as secretary, Chertoff's last major duty here was in 1994 as chief investigator in then-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato's (R-N.Y.) sensationalized probe of Whitewater investments by President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. The investigation fizzled.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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